breastfeeding, feeding, motherhood, parenting

The inevitable final feed!

It’s been emotional yet again!…..”Again?!” I hear you sigh. Well, I make no apologies, regular readers will know by now that my blog entries tend to come with that caveat. In fact the writing of my last blog was such a process for me that I’ve been slow to dive back into the headspace of sharing my mumblings.

This new post focuses on a time that inevitably creeps up on every parent, at varying stages with varying degrees of impact. It’s among popular conversations at toddler groups and playdates…Feeds!…Not just any feed though, invariably one of the last to be dropped; the cherished bedtime feed.

Associated with cuddles, stories and peaceful bedtime routines, saying goodbye to our baby’s big boy’s bottle, felt like such a defining milestone. All other stages; weaning, beginning to toddle, moving to a toddler bed, never seemed to graduate him in my mind to being my big boy. He will ultimately always be my baby as he has completed our family but it has taken some time to stop referring to him as ‘the baby’ in conversation, much to his dismay and correction.

We’d been anticipating the end of the feeding chapter for some time. In fact, the occasion actually occurred a few months ago now but I’m only just getting around to collecting my thoughts. In my experience, I’ve learnt there is no benefit in hindsight when it comes to the last feed; as with many elements of parenting it is outside the reach of control and takes you by surprise. There is no going back, no repeating or rewriting of that precious final paragraph of the chapter.

Those that read my recent blog post, ‘One in Seven Hundred’, will have some idea about the significance of Bubbins’ feeding. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the specialist squeezy bottle. Loving the sheer fact that it meant our son could actually feed in a more traditional sense, avoiding a feeding tube and not least allowing me to feel close to my son. However, on the flip side, every feed was a reminder of the fact that he required such a bottle and nature’s design meant we couldn’t share the bond of breastfeeding.

Needless to say, as months passed we became a little team, we’d got through the initial learning stage of feeding, the cramps of squeezing the bottle for forty minutes at a time began to ease and we’d figured out a perfect harmonious rhythm. The result being that he only liked to feed from me! (Daddy squeezed a little harder than me and Bubbins started to refuse his attempts). So effectively he was as reliant on me as any breastfed child would be of their mummy and I held this very dearly! Often, when speaking to other mums I’d hear how frustrating this reliance could sometimes be and at times I could agree but ultimately this dependence made me feel so special and importantly for me, able to relate! In some ways I feel I had the best of both worlds, being solely relied upon, contentment at being able to provide him such comfort from my feeding ability, precious eyes gazing deeply into mine or studying my every feature, whilst not having the many physical downsides and pains that I had feeding his older brother. (That’s not to say I didn’t have any of the latter though, having had the joys of feeling like part of ‘the herd’ with express feeding for his early months!)

I guess my feelings of sadness were based upon knowing the extent to which I would dearly miss the above. The connection. The dependence. His universe revolving around me, especially considering I now have to chase him around the house for cuddles and kisses! Yet, upon reflection, as much as I miss it, I also adore the happy, independent little soul he is becoming; watching his world expand, as I force myself to relinquish the desire to support his every move.

It would be amiss of me not to mention at this point how much both myself and my hubby relished the thought of never having to wash and sterilise a bottle or teat ever again! I remember a conversation we had when I was heavily pregnant with Bubbins; how much we’d like breastfeeding to work, not least for the fact that it meant not having to sterilise bottles all day long. We joked about it again after Bubbins diagnosis too – if you could have seen the piles of bottles, teats, and expressing paraphernalia in the sink! It might seem trivial but this was an arduous task neither of us ever enjoyed. We actually raised a large glass to this!

As it came to be, Bubbins was just over two and a half when he had his last ever bottle feed. There are some that will say we carried on too long and others not long enough but we did what was right for him as an individual. We’d had endless professionals suggesting he no longer needed it. Of course, we knew he no longer needed it physically (he is a big boy!), but I think we both needed it emotionally. We would see an end to the bedtime milk era when the time was right for our son (and myself to a degree). I’d always hoped/wished we’d be able to empower him to feel ready at his own pace and give him the tools to enable him to tell us in his own way, be that through speech or makaton.

I hadn’t quite got to the point of imagining how it would come about (truth be told, I purposely didn’t imagine it!). We’d toyed with the idea a couple of times. Mainly for selfish reasons, to feel a little more freedom, maybe even go away for a day and night! Rather than the one night away we’d had, where we made a mad dash for the motorway after the most rapidly squeezed milk feed on earth. I seem to recall we even advanced the entire day by an hour in an attempt to deceive the kids into thinking 5pm was bedtime, just to bag ourselves an extra hour of ‘us’ time. As you can imagine, on the couple of occasions that we’d suggested the concept of the bottle fairy it was swiftly refused by Bubbins and who was I to deny him the comfort and cuddles if he so desired them? I was always happy to oblige!

So, to hear Bubbins say the words “Gye Gye Goggle” came a little out of the blue. Totally unexpected! He was just sat happily playing with toys and a dolly if I recall correctly, when the words popped out completely unprompted. I didn’t think he’d truly understood the enormity of what he’d agreed to, so in turn, spent the entire day checking that I had understood him correctly and prepping both him and myself for the evenings shenanigans that lay ahead – an important component of which was to ensure there were copious amounts of wine to turn to should I need it, to help dampen the tears, my tears!

That evening we found ourselves assisting Bubbins to lovingly parcel up his bottle in a little canvas bag and tentatively waiting for him to fall asleep anticipating waking to a special little treasure left in its place by the bottle fairy. It was as we’d snuggled down for the story prior to tucking him in that the reality began to dawn on me….I had given my last ever feed the prior evening without even knowing it….safe to say this realisation left me feeling a touch emotive!

How could the inevitable have been so sneaky?! As I said, benefit in hindsight is ironic in this case; I could not go back and repeat it. I just wish I’d been more aware. Had I been, I’d have cherished the moment that bit more; snuggled him that bit closer, gazed into his beautiful eyes that bit longer and sniffed his delicious smell that bit deeper. The truth is, no matter how prepared my ‘big boy’ had become, I wasn’t quite there yet but was forced to be so.

I’m quite sure I am not alone, that every other mummy out there is as unprepared too. I’ve never had a conversation with a mother looking forward to saying goodbye to feeds. Quite the contrary. I remember it well with my first, all the emotions! Looking back now, it seemed a little easier at that time. Perhaps it was due to Bubba’s level of communication, he was after all, able to reassure me he was happy with his choice. Or perhaps it was because I hoped deep down that it wouldn’t be my last ever feed, if we were lucky enough to be blessed a second time, then I’d have that precious connection all over again, and we were, I was!

If you’ve experienced it, I’ve no doubt my mumblings will have you reminiscing, maybe give you a little aching wish to have that last time once over. If you are soon to be experiencing the stealthy last feed then beat it at its own game -gaze, sniff and cuddle your little one as if it’s already upon you. For those at the start, or yet to start your feeding journey, you are in for a lovely ride, it won’t all be smooth sailing but whatever form it takes, enjoy and most of all treasure the time.

No words were ever truer than to live for the moment. Each and every one! I, as much as anyone, would do well to remind myself of this daily. I am lucky to have had such a lovely chapter with my son and although I miss it dearly I am also relishing the new chapter that has begun and my ‘big boy’ is a delight (for the majority of the time at least). So I cherish the memories and the present….The games, giggles, cuddles, sibling rivalry, even the nearly threenager tantrums. And for the times when I forget myself and have a blip there is always a ‘big girls’ bottle which I can safely say won’t be going to the bottle fairy any time soon!!

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